Music and Lyrics by Don Chaffer, Book by Chris Cragin-Day;
Directed by Amelia Peterson
Produced by Firebone Theatre Company
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 8.27.16
VENUE #15: SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 8.14.16
BOTTOM LINE: The important, human side of the Bible's Christmas story.
“Why does God have to look so human?” Mary asks. In Don Chaffer and Chris Cragin-Day’s The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph’s Baby this tale, told again and again and then pounded into you some more, gets a relieving, fresh treatment. There are zero bells and whistles. We change into Mary’s pregnant bustle in full light, God’s a puppet on a stick greeting us with a simple “hello,” and Joseph’s sword is a rubber mallet. The songs never reach anything preachy, rather we get a personal and careful look at the life of a couple coming to terms with this virgin birth and the enormity of their new, important place as impoverished people. It’s enough for this godless pessimist to crack several smiles and even, impossibly, tap my feet.
This folks, is one of Fringe’s best. It’s smart, it’s polished, it’s honest, and it has a bright future ahead of it. It’s also the rare treat that’s cool to bring a kid to (or your mom if she’s from the Midwest) and be totally not embarrassed while also enjoying yourself. The performances are outstanding. Michael Castillejos’ Joseph is wonderfully flawed and appropriately relatable. His soothing voice lives right next to his speaking voice, avoiding any cringe-worthy musical moments where you’d rather just see them down-to-earth. Ava McCoy’s tender and naïve Mary carries us through this play, and the exquisite Katherine George and New York’s Next Sensation Andrew Nielson turn in multi-character performances, each one better than the last.
Don Chaffer and Chris Cragin-Day's dialogue is strong, and their music is nice albeit a bit predictable. You can almost see the title of the song as we reach the end of the intro and the chorus gets thumping with the hook. But it totally works. And director Amelia Peterson gets out of the way with gentle musical staging that puts her talent front and center. Scenic designer Gabriel Firestone knows all possibilities of a clothesline, Alana Roecker’s contemporary costumes are exactly right, providing us the fresh take we need, and a special shout out to lighting designer Devin Cameron. People of Fringe take note: this guy has the same prep time as you and creates a beautiful, architectural palette to define our journey.
The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph’s Baby is so wonderfully human. When Jesus is a pile of bundled clothes, how could we be in for anything else? This telling of the story is about the parents that are bizarrely forgotten, or at least the female biological parent that the Bible would just as soon forget. Is she just a vessel? Indeed, a play that asks “why would God select a poor family to care for his holy son?” (yeah, Republicans, maybe that means something) is an important one. Who wouldn’t want these awesome people as parents? Have Christians forgotten them? I hope you’ll remember with The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph’s Baby.
(The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph's Baby plays at VENUE #15: SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, through August 27, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes. Performances are Sat 8/13 at 3:30; Fri 8/19 at 5; Mon 8/22 at 7:30; Fri 8/26 at 7; and Sat 8/27 at 12:15. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit firebonetheatre.com.)
The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph's Baby is by Don Chaffer and Chris Cragin-Day. Directed by Amelia Peterson. Music director is Cameron Mizell. Set Design is by Gabriel Firestone. Lighting Design is by Devin Cameron. Costume and props design is by Alan Roecker. Stage Manager is Chloe Anne Madison. The Producer is Hope Chavez.
The cast is Michael Castillejos, Katherine George, Ava McCoy, and Andrew Neilson.